Vienna, 28. November 2013 – The UN Human Rights Council Minorities Forum, which was initiated and is co-financed by Austria, ended its two day session successfully yesterday. The Forum meets annually and this year focussed on the situation of religious minorities: “The pressure exerted on members of religious minorities is increasing worldwide. They are increasingly subjected to persecution and discrimination. It is a matter of the utmost importance that the international community should take a decisive stand against this trend by setting a benchmark and a clear example to the world”, Austrian Vice-Chancellor and Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger said.
In addition to the improvement of the international protection mechanisms for religious minorities and national measures to promote their identity, the central role played by intercultural and interreligious dialogue was underlined. “Only through dialogue and by reaching out to one another will it be possible to ensure the peaceful co-existence of different religious groups. It is essential to bring everyone to the negotiating table without prejudice if this is to be achieved”, Spindelegger said.
Over 400 people participated in the Minorities Forum; these included a large number of people from directly affected members of religious minorities. Austria and the NGO Minority Rights Group International organised a public discussion on the side-lines of the Minorities Forum about the situation of religious minorities in the Middle East. This event was chaired by the Austrian Permanent Representative at the UN in Geneva Ambassador Thomas Hajnoczi. “The situation of religious minorities in this region requires special attention in the wake of the Arab Spring. I am proud of the fact that Austria is playing a central role here and is especially active in its commitment“, the Vice-Chancellor said, and he stressed that “only concerted international efforts can result in an improvement in the situation of these people and guarantee that their rights will be secured”.
A large number of recommendations both to states and to the UN were made at the meeting on how the situation of religious minorities can be improved worldwide. “I hope that these recommendations will contribute to improving the situation. I can give my assurance that Austria will do everything possible to support this process, and will do so at both the national and international levels”, the Foreign Minister concluded.
The protection of religious minorities is a focus of the work done by Austria as a member of the UN Human Rights Council. The Minorities Forum that was established by an Austrian initiative in 2007 is an important element of the Austrian working programme in this area.
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